Empowering students to make positive life choices through school-based mentoring.
Since its inception in 1996, YouthNet, a local registered charity, has worked to unlock the potential in Bermuda's youth, stemming from the belief that all young people possess strengths and abilities necessary to succeed in life. The school-based mentoring programme seeks to align the strengths of these young people (mentees) with those of adults and peers (mentors) in a nurturing environment; promoting opportunities for young people to thrive through positive relationships. YouthNet has grown from traditional mentoring at one middle school, to now providing mentors to schools across the island (primary to senior) though our Traditional, Reading and Peer programmes. YouthNet volunteer mentors spend one hour per week in school with their mentees building meaningful relationships through reading, advising and, in many instances, just having fun. Our mentors are carefully screened and matched with students based on the recommendations of guidance counselors and teachers.
Sustaining funding and navigating the uncertainty of the economic climate continues to be our greatest challenge. Our actions to address this challenge include adhering to a strategic plan; diversifying our funding as much as possible; developing and communicating a strong community impact statement and focusing on increased donor engagement.
Throughout the years, YouthNet has had a demonstrated track record of performance, planning and execution. Despite the challenges within the non-profit sector such as fundraising, a smaller pool of available volunteers, and human resources, we have remained true to our mission with a sustained focus on quality mentoring. We have a foundation based on strong leadership, sound management and research, allowing us to adapt in a changing environment. YouthNet is dedicated to our outcomes, with a solid brand integrity amongst our donors and the community.
The biggest challenge facing YouthNet over the past 5 years has been the shift in focus from growth to sustainability within three major factors of our organization: retaining volunteers, funding and HR capacity. Opportunities always present themselves in a time of crisis, forcing us to reshape the organization, to redirect our focus on other mentoring models, and to find new avenues for funding, volunteers and resources. Strong relationships with our donor base have provided us with opportunities for additional financial support and strong relationships with our community partners have allowed us to be flexible in an unpredictable space.
In a small community like Bermuda, access to diverse talent is limited and there is much demand on the time of those individuals who may sit on more than one board within the community. YouthNet is well networked, and with a strong brand and operational reputation, we have been able to leverage this network to replace any outgoing members.
The board and executive director also share a strong relationship, and work well together to navigate around the internal and external challenges of operating in a weak economy while trying to maintain the quality and scope of our services.
Charities have the ability to provide meaningful work but not always meaningful compensation. Managing mentoring relationships is time intensive and one of the biggest challenges is to defend operating and staffing costs to donors.
In accordance with MENTORS Best Practice, YouthNet delivers a quality mentoring program which is a comprehensive process including recruitment, application, screening, training, matching, weekly monitoring, evaluation and recognition. Best Practice mentoring is about managing the relationship between a mentor and mentee, and demands a high standard. The most important thing about managing a mentoring programme is to ensure the consistency of the match, and to make available all the tools and environment necessary to build a strong relationship. The more regularly the matches meet, the more successful the impact and so monitoring attendance is a lead measure of our success. Ensuring a 75-100% attendance throughout the year is extremely important. A portion of each program manager's salary is allocated to programme costs.
Programme managers also have other duties in addition to relationship management, such as office administration, vendor management, IT, etc.
Over the last couple of years, it has been a struggle to fully staff the organization, so in an effort to be flexible, we have worked in ‘bits and pieces’. In response to the environment and donor inquiries, we have tried to keep operating costs at a minimum by employing tactics such as part-time positions, and contract workers. However, over time, this does take a toll on the organization’s productivity. We expect programme growth to be incremental for at least the next 18 months.
Up until 2009, YouthNet maintained a successful and sustainable funding strategy often with surplus assets. However, these have since eroded due to the downturn of the economy. In the following 5 years, we saw our funding often reduced or declined, due to the increase in requests of our donors. Additionally, some grants awarded were deferred to later fiscal quarters, making smart financial management vital in order to meet monthly obligations.
Over the past 4 years we have had success in refocusing our fundraising efforts toward alternative revenue streams. We hold an annual raffle and have taken measures to drastically reduce our fixed costs. We eliminated our deficit in 2016 and have since managed to maintain a small surplus.